Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
Do you remember the days when shortstops were worth their weight in gold in fantasy? It used to be, if you didn’t grab one in the first few rounds of your draft, you were left to sort through the leftovers and patch something together for the remainder of the season. You’d try to offer trades to your league’s Hanley or Tulo owner, but they knew the position of power they were in. They knew they could demand the world in return. And they’d lord their power over you, like a man dangling SCRAPS OF MEAT over the heads of starving DOGS!
Ahem. Those were dark days.
Well times have changed. With the breakouts of guys like Javier Baez, Tim Anderson, and Trevor Story, shortstop may actually be one of the deeper positions next season. Story went 2-4, R, 2B, SB yesterday, and his season to this point is particularly noteworthy because it comes on the heels of some significant and noteworthy improvements to his game. The most noticeable change is the fact that he cut his strikeout rate from a prohibitively high 34.4% last season to just 25.1% this year. This is backed by a big drop in his whiff rate (11.1%) and contact rate (77.7%), both of which now hover around league average. That change alone would have been enough to see him take a big step forward, but he’s also now posting a career-high 45% hard contact rate, which ranks him 18th among all hitters in the category. And he’s improved dramatically against breaking pitches, which used to be his biggest weakness. His pitch value against sliders has shot up from -10.2 to 6.3, and against curveballs it’s risen from 1.0 to 4.5. xStats pumps the brakes on him a little bit, pegging him for a .272 xAVG and .353 xOBA. But even if he were to regress to those numbers, you’d gladly take that from a guy who should easily finish the year with over 30 homers and 20 stolen bases. The shortstop drought is over!
Javier Baez (SS/2B, Chicago Cubs): 3-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, RBI, SB – A few weeks back, I picked Baez to be one of the players who would come crashing down in the second half of the season. I just didn’t see how anybody with a 17.6% whiff rate and 48.9% chase rate could have sustained success for an entire season. Baez responded by hitting .296 with eight homers over his last 30 games. Take that, logic! Take that, statistics! Javier Baez and his magic stick laugh at you!
Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves): 1-4, R, HR, RBI – I bet the rest of the Marlins pitchers are jealous that Jose Urena gets to sit out this Braves series due to his suspension. At least he gets to escape the wrath of Ronald Thump. Acuna is making America tate again with 13 dingers over his last 30 games. He’s posted a 212 wRC+ in August and cut his strikeout rate down to 20% for the month. Something seems to have clicked.
Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals): 2-3, R, 2B, RBI, BB, 2 SB – Hey, two stolen bases. Flash Gordon is back, baby! Ha, just kidding, Gordon’s still old and slow. He’s having an okay week, with two homers and three steals on his ledger. But there’s really nothing to see here. Move along. I said get!
Mallex Smith (OF, Tampa Bay Rays): 3-5, 2 2B, SB – I really wanted to give Mallex the spotlight for today’s post so I could title this article “Mallex Fast,” a reference to Alex Fast, one of our writers. But I thought that might cause some kind of Pitcher List critical mass that would result in the entire site collapsing in upon itself like a black hole. Anyway, Mallex is fast. Maybe not fast enough to keep up the .380 BABIP, but his much-improved 27.2% line drive rate should help him continue to reach base and make the most of his tools.
Whit Merrifield (2B, Kansas City Royals): 3-4, R, SB – Merrifield has done nothing but hit and steal bases all season long, but now the power seems to be coming around too. He’s homered twice this week, and while the 19 home runs he posted in 2017 were likely a fluke, his 37% hard contact rate is a big improvement from last season, so I don’t think his measly 6.1% HR/FB is long for this world. His counting stats will never be pretty as long as he’s on the Royals, but he’s a solid bet for 10 homers and 30 stolen bases with a high average next season.
Anthony Rizzo (1B, Chicago Cubs): 2-2, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, BB – It sure seemed like things were destined to turn around at some point for Rizzo, who has had a very disappointing season by his standards. His peripherals, including his whiff, contact, and hard hit rates are all in line with his career averages, and things finally seem to be falling into place here over the past few weeks. His hitting .327 with nine homers over his last 30 games, and is a patented hot streak away from finishing the year with the vintage Rizzo statline we were hoping for.
Charlie Culberson (SS/2B/3B, Atlanta Braves): 2-4, R, HR, 2 RBI – Ah, Charnsby Swanberson, we meet again. Culberson has really made the most out of his utility role, and has swatted five homers in his last 15 games. With a .360 BABIP and 20% HR/FB, it’s safe to say this isn’t any kind of breakout, but he’s certainly put together a nice run lately.
Jose Peraza (SS, Cincinnati Reds): 2-4, SB – I’m not sure what’s more surprising when it comes to Peraza: his 8 home runs or his 20 stolen bases. Entering the year he was thought to be a guy who could challenge 40 steals, but would hardly give you more than a home run or two. It’s hard to really complain, as his .294 average makes him plenty useful, but it certainly feels like he’s not making the most out of what appears to be elite speed.
Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves): 2-4, R, HR, RBI, BB – After stealing 13 bases over the first month of the season, Inciarte has stolen just 11 bases since the start of May, including just three over the last two months. As somebody whose legs get tired just from walking to the bathroom, I can certainly relate to how much wear and tear the season must have on a player, but that doesn’t make this downturn in speed any less disappointing. As it stands, he looks to finish the year with around 10 homers and 25 stolen bases, which is still serviceable, but not quite what we expected after his blazing start.
Todd Frazier (3B, New York Mets): 1-4, R, HR, RBI – On the day of his daughter’s wedding, I asked the Toddfather to start swatting dingers, and he had no choice but to abide. Though injuries have continually derailed Frazier this season, he seems to be getting into a groove lately, as he’s hitting .327 with four homers and two stolen bases in his last 15 games. A notoriously streaky hitter, now might be the time to grab Frazier and milk this hot streak for all that it’s worth.
Khris Davis (OF, Oakland Athletics): 1-5, R, HR, RBI – Hi, and welcome back to the Khris Davis home run tracking blog. Today we’ll be talking about Davis’s 39th dinger of the year, and 18th over his last 30 games. I’m not sure what else to say at this point that hasn’t already been said. He’s reduced his strikeout rate while upping his flyball and hard contact rates. That’s a great recipe for a mo’ taters salad.